Monday, July 19, 2021 marks a milestone of sorts for Professional Voice Care Center. It’s the return to seeing clients in person for the first time since pandemic lockdown. March 20, 2020 was the last day we saw clients up close and personal in the office. Lockdown occurred that Sunday, and most businesses were shut tight. We were fortunate enough to be able to stay open without a break, via the technological wonders of telepractice via online platforms. This despite my nasty bout of Covid-19, and the fact that our staff (the late and great Miss Theresa) had to convert the office management to completely remote in only one weekend. (She did it, by the way, and created an entirely computer-driven contactless automated office as her legacy.)
Kudos to all my clients who navigated the online world so bravely and so well, considering some of our senior citizens didn’t even own laptops or smartphones. (Those iPads sure do come in handy!). What started as a strange, surreal, and very lonely online service delivery model became the norm. (And let me take this opportunity to thank my interim staff, who bailed me out when my long-time office manager died suddenly and needlessly of Covid-19. In 4 short months, they have helped to transform this office into a fully-automated, paperless-form well-oiled machine. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Melissa and Courtney! ❤)
Then the strangest thing happened: people actually started to like telepractice. In fact, many of our clients LOVED it! They loved not having to commute, especially in bad weather. They loved staying in their sweats or pajamas. They loved saving time and gas money. They loved it so much….that many clients want to stick with telepractice indefinitely. Virtual voice therapy and singing training had indeed become the new normal. And so we will offer it forever. Ironically, when I really have to look at something closely, like tongue function or elevation of the soft palate, it is far safer and more effective to do that online.
Of course, some things just aren’t the same with telepractice. For one, I miss actually accompanying a singing student on the piano, in real time. (Online platforms create a delay that doesn’t allow real-time accompanying from the remote location. The student has to use live or pre-recorded accompaniment on her end).
I miss walking into the waiting room and introducing myself with that high-energy “Hi! I’m Karen Sussman” and….wait for it….actually shaking someone’s hand! I still introduce myself online and welcome them “virtually” to my office, but it isn’t the same.
We knew the day would come eventually when we would open for in-person business again. Goodness knows I spent months preparing for it: installing UV-C air handlers, medical-grade air purifiers in every room, exhaust fans to exchange the air in our offices with outside air, hand sanitizing stations, contactless check-in, social distancing with new client furniture and alternating offices, and so on. But the notion of how to create effective in-person voice therapy and training with singer’s masks and social distancing was and is truly mentally exhausting. How ironic that flowing from tele-session to tele-session became seamless and easy, and creating safety during live sessions became mentally labor-intensive. If I have anything to do with it, I’d like to prevent transmission of ALL illnesses in my office. Let’s face it, performers: we spit…a lot! Singing, speech and myofunctional therapy (tongue thrust swallowing therapy) became very risky activities indeed! We spent many weeks brainstorming how to make it as safe and CDC-compliant as possible, and I believe we succeeded.
Finally, this week, some (vaccinated and masked) clients are returning to the office. And a crazy concept hit me: one loses a sense of what’s actually the norm in service delivery. Because the norm is…there’s no norm! It’s whatever is best for the client. So some of my “lifers” (i.e., singing students who have been with me seemingly forever) have not come back in-person, and have even expressed interest in keeping the convenience of studying with me from home…and that’s absolutely fine. Save gas and time and be home where it’s safe and comfortable.
For others, they can’t wait to come to us in-person. Our goal is to accommodate them as much as possible too. Since we prefer to allow a full cycle of air exchange and air purification between in-person clients, and we want to keep our waiting room as un-crowded as possible, our schedule alternates between telepractice and in-person sessions. Our first priority is always the health and safety of our clients and staff.
A personal note: I knew that seeing clients “in the flesh” again for the first time in 16 months would be emotional, especially people I’ve known for many years. Air kisses and hugs abounded, and eye smiling over our masks ruled the day. Each new “live” session is a learning experience: we are perfecting how to do laryngeal massage, oral exams, and aerosol-producing voice therapy exercises in the safest ways possible to mitigate risk as much as we can. And I know we will continue to evolve.
Finally, if I may step up on my soapbox before I sign off, these past 4 months have undoubtedly been the worst 4 months of my life, after losing my office manager to Covid, and my nearly 91-year-old mother to sudden cardiac arrest. But herein lies the difference: my mother lived a wonderful full life. Her family was everything to her, and she lived to see children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, and attended many weddings, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, and fun-filled family gatherings. Everyone flourished with her love and attention, and she was healthy until the very end. It is always very sad to lose a parent, and I was very close with my mom. But she did everything she wanted to do, touched many lives, and lived a life full of happiness and love.
My office manager, however, wasn’t given those opportunities. She was only 52 years young and left two children in their 20’s without their mom, and her husband of nearly 30 years without a wife and life partner. She left a dance school without their beloved office manager, and a voice therapy center without its Coordinator. And in my opinion, it could have been prevented. Since our office is a healthcare business, Miss Theresa could have been vaccinated early on, like I was, back in January. But she delayed until it was too late. She was influenced by people who suggested that she should wait until they “know” vaccines are “safe”. Perhaps she didn’t like the idea of side effects. Ironically, I masked and gloved in the office early on, to protect my clients and staff those last few weeks before lockdown, and Miss Theresa stayed safely ensconced in her “glass palace”, our front office, and had no contact with anyone here.
But she needn’t have been afraid of exposure in my office, since we took every precaution very seriously. It was others around her, outside of our office, who took chances and didn’t mask/distance in all situations. Our beloved Voice Program Coordinator believed she would be fine. But she was wrong.
So here’s my soapbox speech, everyone: GET VACCINATED. Stop making excuses about side effects of vaccination, not thinking Covid-19 could happen to you, “willing to get it and ride it out”, “it’s not serious” etc. It’s DEADLY serious. And I and everyone I know who had Covid-19 experienced completely different symptoms. My husband was sick for only 3 days. I, who have no underlying conditions, and am in great shape with excellent immunity, was really sick for 3 weeks, followed by months of lingering symptoms and now permanent tinnitus. Vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective. The deadly effects of Covid-19 are well-documented, and they’re real, take it from me. (If you’re still nervous about the vaccine, talk to your doctor, your clergyman, friends who have been vaccinated, etc., and don’t listen to misinformation). If you are selfish enough to think only of yourself, at least consider your loved ones. Don’t expose them needlessly. And don’t put yourself in a position where you’ll be gone, and leave your family bereft and alone. Think beyond yourself and do the right thing….get vaccinated.
I will step off my soapbox now. Thank you for listening!